Wednesday 30 September 2015

The only solution to the Syrian refugee crisis

Firstly, credit where credit is due. The leader of Barnet Council has announced that the council will help resettle 50 Syrian refugees. This blog is not always a fan of our Conservative Council, but they have done the decent thing and credit to Richard Cornelius for displaying decency and humanity.

It gives me no pleasure iin saying this, but sadly it is clear that there is only one solution to the problem. It is not a palatable one, but given the threat IS pose to the residents of Syria and the threat their ideology poses to the wider world, I have come to the conclusion that putting a stop to their activities is perhaps the number one priority for the civilised world. And there is only one way this can be done. It will involve a massive loss of face for the west and will result in a huge foreign policy coup for the Putin regime. But we live in a grown up world and sometimes the only solution is the pragmatic one. In short, the West should reverse its policy of regime change in Syria and back the Assad regime. However vile and repugnant his regime was, we did not have the spectre of IS. Chirsitians and other minorities were relatively safe and there was no refugee crisis. If Assad took IS out tin Syria, the tumour infecting Iraq would be removed and IS would have no safe haven and supply bases.

This may sound like a repugnant prospect, given Assads appalling record on human rights, but as far as I can see there is no other credible alternative that will see the end of IS. The sad truth is that deposing dictators in Iraq and Libya has not delivered free and safe societies for the citizens of these countries. The definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. The sad truth is that if you want to keep a lid radical islamic nutters inb the middle east, you need foul and repressive dictators. It gives me no pleasure to say it, but it is true and if you believe otherwise, you probably still believe in the tooth fairie.

Monday 28 September 2015

The most horrible thing imaginable

On Saturday, I was driving to the gym as I usually do. As I was pulling into the car park I was listening to the news. I was vaguely listening, but was thinking about more urgent matters. As I pulled up my phone went. It was one of the guys I play five a side football with. He is not in the habit of calling on a Saturday morning. As I answered the call, I expected a request for a PA system or some info which may form part of a blog about some aspect of life in Barnet. People call me and email me all the time. When I answered, there was a strange tone to his voice. Not the usual jolly banter that team mates exchange. He said "have you been listening to the news?". Yes, I just had? Realising something was seriously not right and I'd not picked up on it, I asked. Nothing could have prepared me for the awful news that followed. One of our five a side squads son had died in a tragic accident. I was dumbstruck. A couple of weeks ago, we'd been having a curry and my friend was saying how proud he was of his son. And then it is extinguished. What can you say? I was dumbstruck. Over the past week, both my daughters have departed for University. On top of all the normal feelings a parent has, this tragic news sent me into a mild panic attack. When your children are small and at home, you can to some extent protect them. On the weekend when they leave home, to recieve such a wakeup call as to just what a punishing world we live in and how you have no way of protecting them, even if you wanted to, was devastating wake. I've always had a devil may care attitude to personal risk. I've always encouraged my kids to take risks, do sports, go out and enjoy themselves. I've always believed that life is there for the living and a soul that takes no risk doesn't really live. But have I really ever considered the downside? My Dad raised me to believe that we are lucky and that even when bad things happen, they are only there to educate us and help us grow as people.

Then something like this happens. You have to reevaluate your philosophy. How can anything good come out of such a tragedy? What greater purpose could such a terrible, random accident have? I am a person of almost unshakeable faith, but my faith has been shaken to the core. What should I say to my friend? How on earth can you do anything that can in any way help? I thought back to 2008 when my mother passed away. In the scheme of tragic events, the death of an 83 year old woman who was in poor health, had had a great life and was ready to take the next stage in their journey cannot be compared. But I was still incredibly cut up and upset at the death of my mum. Despite everything I loved her to bits and new I'd miss her terribly. One of my friends made a special effort to take me out, buy me  curries and pour beers down my throat. He gave me an incedible bit of insight. He said "look I know buying you a few beers and a few curries doesn't really help at all, but I really want to be a friend and I genuinely can't think of anything that could possibly help cheer you up right now, so beers and curries will have to do". And the funny thing was that in hindsight it did help. Not the endless hours of me morosely talking about my mum, but the odd snatches when we'd talk about the football, the news or other topics of the day. As the beers went down, my mind wandered from the all encompassing event. Maybe only for a minute or two at a time, but help it did. It was just good to have someone outside my immediate family circle, who were all preoccupied with the same thing.

Grief and bereavement is the most awful thing. I cannot conceive of anything worse than the death of one of my children. It is so horrible, that the mere thought makes me feel physically sick. The events of Saturday brought this home to me big time. For most of us we want to help but we don't know how. We don't want to intrude on others grief, we don't want to say the wrong thing. We don't want to bother people when they have all manner of more important things to do. So we do nothing. It is the safe option but are we really friends if we stand by when our friends most need us? What is the right balance? A card with a note saying to get in touch? An email expressing grief and saying we are there if needed? A telephone call? A knock on the door? It all depends on how close a friend, how the dynamics of your relationship work and how much time you really are prepared to give up. It is all very well saying "call me day or night, anytime and I'll drop anything and make time" But if you get that call and you say "Oh sorry, I'm busy, Auntie Peggie has dropped in for a cuppa right now" then the kind intent could cause more hurt than good. And what to say, as it is hard to know whether a friend would want to talk about their loved one and their loss, or whether they'd want to talk about anything but? And what happens if they open up and lose it ( I am sure I would?).  How do we deal with that scenario?

I can't help but think that I spent years at school learning Algebra, E=MC2, how to measure osmotic pressure and Shakespears sonnets, but they never taught me how to help a friend who needs it? Does no one really know? As a society, it seems to me that we are emotionally retarded. We simply want to pretend that everything will be fine and dandy. Value is put on teaching subjects that we never will use and no thought at all given to how on earth what we do when we have a friend who has suffered a loss which is almost unimaginably horrible.

So I have a simple plea. If you've been through such a thing and have something useful to say about the issue, please leave a comment. Please don't just cut and paste a load of links to "helpful charities". I do know how to use google and I can do that myself. I'd like people who have personal experience of helping a friend in such a situation to pass on whatever useful and helpful information you can.

One of the main reasons I writre this blog is I believe that as a community we could and should help and support each other. Sharing information is the most tangible way we can do this. 

How do you feel when you drop your kids off for University?

Over the last two weekends, I've had the pleasure of dropping both of my daughters off at their respective Universities in the north of England to start a new phase in their lives. This morning we awoke to a far tidier and quieter house. It is probably the biggest change in our household since they started school. Both journeys involved a round journey of 7-8 hours. Going up a car full of gear and a child in the back and coming back, the baby is gone with all their junk.

For our kids it is hopefully a new, rewarding and exciting phase of their lives. For us, things just got considerably quieter. For us as parents, we have the pride that both of the daughters have been able to continue their education at the college of their choice, doing subjects they want. There is however a twinge of sadness that we will not have them around. Who knows what the future will hold for them. Will they settle in? Will they be happy? For me I think it is great that they have a fantastic opportunity to be eased into an independent life. They are surrounded by opportunity and hopefully a great opportunity to meet new friends.

For us, we have a bit more time on our hands, a bit less mess to clean up, a few less meals to make. We won't be coming home to quite so many friends of our offspring dropping in, eating us out of house and home. Mind you we still have our teenage son, who is doing his GCSE's this year, so its  not completely dead in the house. Who will he argue with? He doesn't have his big sisters to comfort him when I tell him off. It is a big change.

It is all a bit strange at the moment. Exciting and a bit scary. Life is a funny old thing.

Friday 25 September 2015

Rog T's Cancer Blog - What goes up, must come down?

Lets play PSA roulette?
For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, you can skip this first paragraph.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life.  For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 51 years old and in October 2011 I  had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gives me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I'm now on a program of active monitoring.  In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0,  February 2015 it was  up to 5.5  and my latest in August 2015 was down againg at 4.6.  I've no symptoms and sadly for a few people, if I'm gonna die soon, it won't be from Prostate cancer. Got the picture?

In February, I'd seen a reasonable jump in my PSA levels. I wrote a couple of blogs detailing how I felt.

Rog T's Cancer Blog - Friday the 13th, The day of doom?  and

Rog T's Cancer Blog - Part II - Friday the 13th, The day of doom? The NHS crisis bites

But that seems a long time ago. Since then, I've been booked in for yet another biopsy. This one is a more comprehensive version. It requires a general anaesthetic, I'm having that next week. And I got my latest PSA today, it is 4.6. This is down from 5.5 in February. Strangely I'd forgotten that I was 5.5 in February. I thought I was 4.0, so when he pointed out that it had gone down, I was mildly surprised. The term "stable" was used. When he said "stable", I though of horses bolting. Last night, I had a beer with a friend who hasn't had such good news. He is going in for a couple of days of surgery. He recently had a biopsy, which was clear, but a CAT scan showed up irregularities on his bladder and his urethera tubes. He'll be having surgery in mid October. One of the benefits of writing this series of blogs is that I believe it is beneficial for men to discuss health problems and share information. Many are. I believe the more information we have, the better the personal decisions we make. I also do not have 100% trust in the medical profession, so knowing the questions to ask and when to raise flags and say "whoa, hold on" is important. Cancer is a rocky ride and many aspects of the journey are scary. Talking to people with experience of such issues is vital, but how do you start a conversation if you don't want to talk about delicate matters.

The truth is with Prostate Cancer, men have things shoved up there bums on a regular basis. Most men do not wish the world to be aware of this fact. So they keep schtum. As a result, they cut off access to support networks and help. They miss out on helpful information as to how to mitigate some of the problems (for instance if you think the experience may be traumatic, ask for a general anaesthetic). If your PSA has gone up, but your doctor seems unconcerned, if you can't discuss your fears with someone else, how can you deal with them? If you have been prescribed hormone therapy and you've lost your sex drive, it can be a very lonely place. Since I started this blog, I've talked to dozens of fellow sufferers. Well over half of the guys I've spoken to have never spoken to anyone. Some have only spoken to me because their wives have raised the subject and I could see they are hellishly uncomfortable. In every case, they've initially been reluctant to talk, but once they get over their embarrassment, they can't stop. Cancer is such a scary concept, that they've tried to lock the mental demons away. When the flood gates open, all manner of strange concepts and misconceptions appear. Many of the people I know who are sufferers have lost parents or grandparents to the disease and this adds a whole other array of fear and dejection. Often though, unlike the lost relatives, they are in a very treatable position. Most will die with, not of the cancer. So why live with demons locked away inside? I guess the next episode of this particular series will be after my next biopsy. One last point, I noticed is that during the course of my eperience with PC, my PSA has gone down nearly as many times as it has gone up. It is not significantly higher than it was in November 2011. So despite four years of fear, worry and tensions, I am sort of where I started. A lot of worry for nothing? We shall see in the coming weeks.

The Friday Joke 25/9/2015

Three mischievous old Grandmas were sitting on a bench outside the nursing home when an old Grandpa walked by. One of the old Grandmas yelled out, 'Hey, we bet we can tell exactly how old you are!'
The old man said, 'There is no way you can guess my age!
One of the Grandmas said, 'Sure we can! Just drop your pants and we can tell your exact age.'
Embarrassed, but anxious to prove they couldn't do it, he dropped his drawers.

The Grandmas asked him to first turn around a couple of times and then jump up and down several times. Determined To prove them wrong, he did it. Then they all said in unison, 'You're 87 years Old!'
Standing with his pants down around his ankles, the old gent asked, 'How in the world did you guess my age?'
Slapping their knees, high fiving and grinning from ear to ear, the three old ladies happily crowed.....

'We were at your birthday party yesterday.'

Have a great weekend 

Thursday 24 September 2015

Has George Osborne lost his marbles? £3m in aid to Chinese for Football coaching

It's an old cliche, but sometimes you just couldn't make it up. This morning the Daily Express is running a story detailing how the UK are giving £3m in aid to the Chinese for the purposes of helping set up a football coaching scheme. The plan is backed by the FA. There are so many things that are completely wrong about this, it is almost impossible to know where to start. This blog has argued, since its inception in 2008 for the FA, the government and the council to spend more money on coaching for grassroots football in the UK. I've spent the last seven years watching my son play youth football. I've seen some of his team mates from poor families (some of immigrants) turn up without football boots ( a whip round of well off parents has sorted such things out). I've seen pitches not properly maintained. I've seen us play clubs where they don't have proper kits. I've seen clubs running teams with no proper coaching and just enthusiastic parents, where talented kids are getting no help in developing into talented players capable of competing. There are so many things wrong with the youth set up in the UK, it breaks my heart. It is no wonder we produce so few world class players and it is criminal that so many kids who start out enthusiastic about football drift away because it is logistically impossible to play and develop. What is sickening is that The Premier League is awash with money as never before and a 2% levy on TV rights money would provide for the UK to have the best yout coaching facilities in the world. But no, the greedy owners of the clubs are not interested. They line their pockets and scour the world for the players we are not producing. I've long argued the government should act, but no they are not interested. There is clearly a case in the UK for investment. Especially as the Premier League is one of our nations most important brands.

As to foreign aid for football. I'd support this if it was for impoverished kids in Africaa, who football may make a difficult life bearable. But China is a mega rich country, second only to the USA in economic wealth. They have a space program, they win more golds than us at the Olympics. They make most of the products in our houses. Why do we need to support them. It is not as if they are a benign friendly regime and this is part of a rich program of cultural exchange. They are a nasty dictatorship. Religious and personal freedoms are limited. There is no democracy and if they were not so rich and powerful, Osborne would probably be calling for them to be boycotted. I've been to China. I was there in 1990, the year after Tianamen Square massacre. The people are fantastic, but the rulers are corrupt and nasty. It is a fact of life that we have to live with them, but by giving aid like this, we are perpetuating a very nasty regime. We are giving them a respectability they don't deserve. Just think of the message this sends. A whole generation of football mad Chinese youngsters will be brought up to believe that their government must be marvellous because the British Government and the Premier League are giving them such fantastic facilities. The Chinese dictators are no mugs. They know the propoganda value of such gestures.

If you want to know just how nasty they are, Google Dalai Lama, the religious leader of Tibets Buddists. This is a man of peace and wisdom, who is nearly universally respected across the globe. There is only one place where he is not. That is in China, because his moral courage stands in the way of Chinese hegemony in Tibet. It is sickening that Osborne is sucking up to such men. It is even more sickening that he is doing it when our own kids are deprived of the facilities he is setting up for them. I have to conclude that we are run by imbeciles.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Barnet Council website now fixed & the Council thank The Barnet Eye!

Regular readers will have read how on Monday, The Barnet Eye identified problems with the Barnet Council website. It appears that the Council IT (Capita) supplier put changes to the website live without doing any testing to see whether they worked. As a result, people trying to organise charity events were unable to submit license applications. As these have to be in 2 weeks in advance, this potentially would have caused many problems and cost local charities thousands of pounds, as well as causing unpaid helpers endless hassle trying to work out what was going on.

The good news is that the Council have fixed the site and even thanked the Barnet Eye for bringing the matter to their attention.

Hi, sorry for the late reply. This should have been changed. Thanks for letting us know.

They even apologised for the poor service!
Which just goes to show that blogging and tweeting in Barnet does get results. I am a tad disappointed, if not unentirely surprised that the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the council
couldn't be bothered to at least put up a note apologising and saying they'd try and ensure better service in future. I can't see either of them emulating the great wartime US president Roosevelt who had a sign on his desk saying "The buck stops here". I suspect in Barnet, the buck always stops somewhere else. Sad really, a bit of manners from the pair of them in at least acknowledging the fact the organisation they run had problems, which inconvenienced the taxpayers who pay their allowances, would have been pleasant.

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Corbin not the only one facing a coup?

I was fascinated to see the Ashcroft attacks on David Cameron yesterday. That these were revealed on The Daily Mail, usually the most loyal if Tory papers is illuminating. Could it be that the Mail have concluded that with Labour in turmoil, now is a great time to install a leader more to their liking. Cameron has always been viewed with suspicion by the hard Thatcherite wing of the Tories who would prefer a more ideolically pure leader. One can only assume that with Labour moving left, they've assumed a rightward lurch may be less risky so are happy to see Cameron undermined. 

I suspect this strategy may be rather flawed. I don't think piggate reflects well on anyone. I suspect the only credible candidate to replace Cameron who this won't hurt is Theresa May as she's not exactly a posh boy. I think yesterday was probably a rather strange day for Jeremy Corbyn, I suspect he may even have felt a bit sorry for Cameron. If anyone knows what a press smear frenzy is like its Corbyn.

Monday 21 September 2015

Why can't Capita manage the Barnet Council website properly?

Over the weekend I needed to make some applications for Temporary Event notices for a couple of local Charity events I am helping to organise. I have done this dozens of times using the Council website. It costs the local charities £30 a shot (money raised by local fundraisers and lining Capita who run the services pockets). I have no objection to paying private companies to provide services, however one does expect a large corporation such as Capita to at least be able to do the job properly.

It seems that this is beyond Barnet Council and Capita. It is a basic premise of IT that when you  design a change, you test it and make sure it works, before you inflict the change on the general public. It is pretty clear to me that Capita and Barnet Council can't be bothered.

Let me explain what is happening. To get the licence, I go to the Licences menu, which is this page
Embedded image permalink

click the link for alchohol and events notices and hey presto - This is what I get.
Embedded image permalink

Not only is this highly inconvenient, but when you try and ring the council on the number given on their contact page for licensing, there is no option given for licensing queries.
Embedded image permalink

I don't suppose it occurs to the council that people may actually need to use these services, but for those of us trying to raise money for local good causes it is highly inconvenient and has wasted me hours. The new Council website is a nightmare. It is bad enough that it is difficult to navigate, but the fact it doesn't work is a complete disgrace. What exactly are we paying Capita for?

Sunday 20 September 2015

My Reply to Tim Farron

As many readers of the Barnet Eye will know, I quit the Labour party in 2009 and in the 2010 Council elections joined the Lib Dems and stood in the Mill Hill ward. There were four reasons I took this decision (in this order).

1. The support of the Labour Government for mistreatment of refugees by French riot police.
2. The blatent lies of the then Labour government about the reasons for launching a war against Iraq, which Charles Kennedy as leader was the only major leader to call out and oppose.
3. The Lib Dems opposition to tuition fees, brought in by a Labour government.
4. My belief that in the London Borough of Barnet, The Lib Dems, lead by Jack Cohen, were the only decent and principled politicians in the Town Hall.

Shortly after the 2010 election, Nick Clegg swapped the Lib Dems conscience and principles for the keys to a ministerial Jag. The day he ditched the partys opposition (a pledge every candidate signed) to tuition fees, was the day I decided to quit. Out of respect for Jack Cohen and the local activists who supported me, I've refrained from saying too much about the party. I like our local candidate at the 2015 election. But today I got this email from the new leader.

Dear Roger,
One of the biggest mistakes Labour made was when they flip-flopped and fractured in their opposition to the welfare bill. When ordinary people were looking for credible opposition to the Government’s plans, Labour faltered.
The Liberal Democrats were united in opposition because we had a credible, sensible alternative.
Now, Labour shows no intention or desire to understand economic responsibility. They have given up challenging the Government on the economy, and given them the freedom to make punitive decisions against the most vulnerable.

We cannot let the Government go unchallenged, and it’s why the Liberal Democrats are now the only party of credible opposition.

Liberal Democrats represent people in Britain who care about helping those in need, who believe that those with the broadest shoulders must carry the heaviest burden, who care about how free and fair our society is, and who believe we need to spend within our means to achieve it.
If that sounds like you, Roger, I have one big offer to you: join the Liberal Democrats today and become a part of our movement.
Tim Farron
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
 Now I agree with the first paragraph of this email. But Labour have a new leader, who has a clear view of the where he stands. The second paragraph talks about "understanding economic responsibility". The Lib Dems had five years as a junior partner in government. Sadly during this period, they gave the Tories to take plenty of " freedom to make punitive decisions against the most vulnerable" such as bedroom taxes, welfare cuts and hikes in student fees. Tim talks about how  "Liberal Democrats represent people in Britain who care about helping those in need" but their record in government says otherwise. I am not ruling out ever voting Lib Dem again. I most certainly would in the Council elections if there was a possibility that this would prevent the Tories winning Barnet Council. But until such time as Tim Farron and the rest of the party apologise for the catastrophic decision to ditch their principles and back the massive hike in student fees, they have no credibility as a national party and I for one wouldn't touch them with a bargepole.

I've no idea if Tim Farron reads this blog, but if he does and he wants people like me to take him seriously, there are four things he needs to do.

1. Apologise for the hike in student fees.
2. Apologise for the bedroom tax.
3. Apologise to all of those pushed into destitution by benefit cuts etc, which his party voted for.
4. Apologise for putting the desires of the mega rich for a tax cut before the poor whilst in power.

Tim, you are welcome to make these apologies on a guest blog in the Barnet Eye or anywhere else you like. The Shadow Chancellor has shown how a politician can benefit from an apology. Now it's your turn

Roger Tichborne